From Bricks to Clicks: new inquiry report explores what student data will mean for higher education.

 Big data is probably one of the most talked about topics in the modern age. Trailblazers like Amazon and IBM have been analysing data for years now –giving them and their clients a commercial edge and making their customers happy at the same time by bringing them products they’d like to buy. Naturally, data use has been on the tip of nearly every tongue in the tech sector from production to sales to customer service for some time now.

From Bricks to Clicks, co-chaired by Professor Lord Norton and Sarah Porter of Jisc and Oxford University renown, was launched in Parliament at the end of January 2016. It explores what the data revolution could mean for students primarily, and thus what HEIs and tech sector experts can do to make the most of the opportunity.

The Higher Education Commission found that student ‘digital footprints’ could tell us what they download, where they access records, the lecture recordings they watch and about their learning experience on e-learning platforms like Blackboard. This can build digital profiles that will help universities to profile learning needs and experiences, pick up students where they need extra support and predict final exam performances.

The Commission argues this approach can benefit students immeasurably (so long as it ethically used of course). Data like this holds valuable information for universities who are looking to improve student experience and learning and thus the institution’s overall performance – with many positive knock-on effects.

But making the most of this information also means HEIs must ensure they don’t end up becoming like Big Brother. In fact, the report authors have specifically devoted a whole chapter to understanding critical issues around student consent, codes of practices, privacy, staff data literacy, and students ‘gaming the system’.

Regarding data safety, Commission Co-chair Barry Sheerman MP said: “I think the technologies discussed in the report absolutely have the potential to transform the sector, but to be most effective they need to be used appropriately and ethically. We recognised valid concerns held in the sector around privacy, consent and security of student data during the course of the inquiry, something I was keen for the Higher Education Commission to highlight in the final findings.  We have therefore made ethical data use, protection and storage key to a number of recommendations in From Bricks to Clicks and we recommended that any analytics should be underpinned by a code of practice that addresses these issues.”

From Bricks to Clicks argues that data analytics should be a cornerstone to university business models, student learning, support and overall institutional development. The HE sector can lead the way in data collection, use and optimisation, so long as this is done with student consent and robust safeguards. Data will help institutions to improve student retention, better target student support, and develop teaching and learning across the sector. The reality is that understanding data and the use of data analytics institutions can ensure that students are better taught and supported throughout their courses.

To find out more about From Bricks to Clicks’ 12 recommendations, visit, or get in contact with the Higher Education Commission on  

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